A pair of ex-Rough Riders, a former prostitute, a gunfighter, an aging cowboy and an English gentleman enter a 700-mile horse race through the Southwest desert in 1908.A pair of ex-Rough Riders, a former prostitute, a gunfighter, an aging cowboy and an English gentleman enter a 700-mile horse race through the Southwest desert in 1908.A pair of ex-Rough Riders, a former prostitute, a gunfighter, an aging cowboy and an English gentleman enter a 700-mile horse race through the Southwest desert in 1908.
Questions of greed, competition, teamwork, loyalty, betrayal and humanity are all given a good and non-medicinal airing. There's enough action here for the inert, and enough philosophy for the grownups.
There's been discussion in these reviews of the director's use of slow-motion. Slow motion is not used here to make intellectual points, it is an instrument of emotional expression. When one character in real time passes another in slow motion, it conveys to us how they both feel at that moment, and doesn't need to carry any other freight. As an expressive device, it works.
The question of animal abuse has also come up in these pages. In "Bite the Bullet" the horses are always photographed as heroes, often visually overwhelming their riders. Gene Hackman is shown from the beginning as a fighter of cruelty against animals, and every abuse he witnesses he then tries to remedy. The education of the Jan Michael Vincent character is a case in point.
Furthermore, this picture makes you care about the animals, unlike the traditional offhand Hollywood cruelty. Dozens of horses were killed to make the last reel of the Errol Flynn "Charge of the Light Brigade" and the film itself couldn't care less. You can see trip wires being used wholesale as late as in "Khartoum", and when those horses went down, they broke legs and were immediately shot, not pretend, for real.
Hollywood's excuse has always been that horses are expensive and they don't kill them thoughtlessly. Stunts are performed by circus horses, which presumably don't come to harm. We're told the only horses that get killed are old and already destined for the glue factory. Whether this justifies trip wires or not is up to you, but that's what they say.
"Bite the Bullet" comes off as sensitive and responsible by comparison. This is no snuff film. The Oscar-winning sound design makes you really care when the horses are supposed to be in distress.
A lot worse things happen to the human characters in just about every action-adventure film of the last twenty years. Is the "yuck" factor we're now trying to get used to more or less disgusting?
All in all, "Bite the Bullet" is a worthwhile film with content, humor and beauty. There's thousands of worse ways to spend your time than watching this movie.
- tonstant viewer
- Mar 23, 2002